Mapping innovation opportunities in global higher education

Innovation in internationalization of higher education is low, according to a quick poll of 112 professionals attending a session at the European Association for International Education (EAIE) annual conference in Glasgow. When participants were asked “How would you rate innovation in internationalization at your institution?”, 47% reported it to be Low, 12% as High and balance 41% as Medium. I recently chaired this opening session on Innovation in Internationalization of Higher Education for EAIE’s International Relations Managers (IRM).

mapping internationalization strategies for universities

While innovation may seem like a buzzword, in 1934, Schumpeter defined five areas of innovation — product innovation, process innovation, market innovation, input innovation and organizational innovation. More recently innovation is defined as “the co-creation or collaborative recombination of practices that provide novel solutions for new or existing problems”

A recent Study on Innovation in Higher Education from European Commission (EC), defines innovation in the context of higher education as “[a] new or significantly improved product, process, organisational method or an organization itself developed by or having a significant impact on the activities of a higher education institution and/or other higher education stakeholders.”

The EC study has identified three major challenges for higher education which are increasing the importance of innovation– pressures from globalization, changing supply of and demand for highered and changes in highered funding.

At the same time there are barriers to innovation, “…it is nearly impossible to optimize the effectiveness of either the research or teaching functions when they are as closely intertwined as they are in higher education today.” (Armstong, TIAA-CREF). At another level “The blockages for innovation can be found both at the institutional –level…and at national/regional. Regulatory frameworks are also a crucial potential blockage to some innovative practices.” (EC).

Given the importance of innovation and at the same time barriers to its adoption from the insiders, “innovation is taking place at a much faster rate at the fringes of the education system than at its core. It is getting accelerated by the energy of entrepreneurs, employers, investors and most importantly, new types of learners who are open to experiment.”

One way of conceptualizing innovation opportunities and challenges is the framework from MacCormack, et. al (2013) which can be thought of in terms of the level of familiarity an organization has both with the problems to be solved and the solutions required to solve them. I have adapted the innovation to the context of international higher education. For example, a “familiar need” of enrollment growth can be addressed by a “new capability” of online learning or an “familiar capability” of program development.

In an environment of increasing complexity, changing student demands and decreasing budgets, infusing innovation in internationalization can have far-reaching impact in differentiating and shaping the future of an institution. Forward-looking higher education institutions need to consider a range of innovative strategies and models that can advance global outreach and engagement.

Dr. Rahul Choudaha